When I first heard that some public schools in rural Arkansas are allowing… asking… requiring?… their teachers and administrators (and janitors) to carry concealed handguns during their day, I was not surprised. I lived in Arkansas for ten years; I’m familiar with that aspect of the culture. Many of the residents (particularly those outside the cities) are very familiar with guns of many kinds. And they want to use them: for protection. This is thus something that many of those in the state have regarded as being “on the horizon” for a number of years. (Much, perhaps, as many people see same-sex marriage as impending; “on the horizon”.) Now it is certainly something that we here in the north would have some difficulty with, but these are two different places with very different perspectives.
But what bothered me when I started looking into it was not just *that* it was happening, but how it was being justified. How it was being reported. Not just in Arkansas, but around the country. Consider the following article that was distributed through the Associated Press:
“As Cheyne Dougan rounded the corner at Arkansas’ Clarksville High School, he saw three students on the floor moaning and crying. In a split-second, two more ran out of a nearby classroom.
“He’s got a gun,” one of them shouted as Dougan approached with his pistol drawn. Inside, he found one student holding another at gunpoint. Dougan aimed and fired three rounds at the gunman.
Preparing for such scenarios has become common…” (Wisconsin Gazette, 2013)
Now when I first read this, I was shocked. I searched my memory: I do not remember having heard about this at all. Oh, there have been a number of school shootings in the state, but nothing that I remember from the last decade. There was one in Stamps in 1997 and another in Jonesboro in 1998. There was one at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 2000, though the students would have been older. There were two in 2008; one at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), and the other the University of Central Arkansas (UCA): where I taught geography just two years prior. (Wikipedia) Now, granted that any such shootings are too many, I could find no reference to a shooting where a school official had killed the gunman.
So I kept searching, and finally found a description that seemed more accurate:
“Recent training included a mock shooting in which Cheyne Dougan, assistant principal of Clarksville High School, pulled his 9mm handgun and fired three times to bring down a student holding a fellow classmate at gunpoint.” (USA Today, 2013)
Ah, so: it was a mock gunfight and a pretend scenario. I wouldn’t have necessarily realized that from the first description. And that kind of confusion in reporting (or at least in reading the reporting) is exactly the problem with our culture today. We believe the things we want to believe; and unless writing is precise it can be misleading. And misleading news adds to a culture of fear, and to more paranoia. I would have expected the above article to appear on Fox News: but no, it was distributed by the Associated Press. There was, indeed, significant negative response to the idea of school employees “packing” that was not reported in the above article (The Street, 2013).
Update (August 2, 2013): The Arkansas Attorney General issued a statement saying that the plan to arm teachers was “flawed”. (Washington Post, 2013) “Obviously we’re going to comply with the law. We’re not going to break the law,” said Hopkins [the school superintendent].” (Nola.com, 2013)